Weird and wonderful

A royal weekend: Prince Philip and the Nelsons

Following their remarkable adventure on the Galápagos Islands, Bryan and June Nelson encountered Prince Philip once again – this time in the Scottish wilds.

Galapagos Crusoes is an updated version of the celebrated 1968 title, Galapagos: Islands of Birds, by the renowned late ornithologist Bryan Nelson. This new edition adds previously unpublished reminiscences and lively and irreverent memories from his wife June as the pair describe the year they spent living on two uninhabited, waterless Galápagos islands studying birds in 1964.

The following extract from Galapagos Crusoes details a subsequent encounter between the Nelsons and Prince Philip, at the home of Aubrey Buxton (equerry to Prince Philip), remote in the Scottish Highlands.  Prince Philip also wrote the foreword to the original book.

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Prince Philip had several expeditions with Aubrey Buxton (chairman of Anglia TV who went on to commission and produce a film on the Galapagos) and eventually visited his remote house in northwest Scotland. An excellent cook would drive several miles to prepare dinner for the group, but that same journey to prepare breakfast didn’t make sense. Would I do it? Of course, but with some trepidation. Aubrey, Prince Philip, a detective, a valet, and Bryan and I stayed in the house. ‘Interesting’ folk were invited for dinner or to join us for the day.

The first breakfast involved fried eggs. Oh dear, I would be sure to break them. Would the detective mind cooking them? What a silly lack of confidence; mine would have been far superior to his over-cooked offerings.

The valet knocked on my door in some consternation. He had forgotten the Royal garters; plus fours without garters just don’t work. Would I please sew some?  Of course I wasn’t allowed to measure the Royal leg, but we managed between us. I could see the photograph of the Queen beside Prince Philip’s bed whenever I passed his room.

Following a short row to a nearby seabird island, I was left on board to look after the dinghy. After some long time, and bored with singing to the fascinated seals, I tied up the boat and went for a walk. We all returned to the dinghy simultaneously. Prince Philip surveyed my efforts at a nautical knot and asked “And whose knitting is this?”   

The highlight of the stay was a trip to Handa Island, famous for its seabirds. En route we came across two elderly women standing beside a mini in a ditch. Prince Philip, driving the lead Land Rover, braked hard, jumped out, and organised the party to lift out the drunken car. Turning to leave, he wagged a finger at the open-mouthed owners “Now don’t do that again.”

We had a delightful day on the island, dive-bombed by skuas, so many subjects for the camera, and eventually a dip in the loch. I had been led discreetly away by Aubrey, but I’m sure Prince Philip would have had no qualms about skinny dipping with me. Bryan later reported that, as expected, Prince Philip dived in first. He came up clawing weed from his face “be careful, it’s very shallow.”

More information

You can read more about June and Brian Nelson’s adventures in Galapagos Crusoes: